I wasn’t always a painter

26 08 2009

First I threw up. Every week on the way home from class. I had to stop the car. Was it the paint thinner, not eating properly, or my nerves? Who knows?

I was enrolled in the Gloria Foss Color Course and was taking one vacation day per week from my university relations job because the class ran from 9 to 3 at Vicky Kula’s. Since coming home homesick from the rigorous Art Center College of Design photography program the second time I went to college (the first time was for journalism and music at UH), I vowed to keep my eye trained with continuing studio courses.

For starters, I picked Gloria’s. Gloria and I were both members of the National League of American Pen Women, Honolulu Branch. When I first met her, I was about 25 and working as a reporter. Her hair was already silver, and she was studying for her Master in Fine Arts degree so she could teach. She said she studied with a lot of art teachers and that if they had taught certain basic things in the beginning, it would have been a lot easier. So she designed her own course. I remembered  that.

These were lessons in oil painting. Enrolling was a commitment. A luxury. Something I’d wished for. In elementary school and high school, back in the day, a choice had to be made between art and music. I always picked music. My mother was a piano teacher and my father was a truck driver. Art lessons weren’t cheap, and neither were art supplies.

Vicky Kula taught the basics in the studio, like values (the shades of gray from light to dark), how to turn the form based on the logic of light (light, middle tone, dark, reflective light) starting with the ball, cube, cylinder and cone while slowly introducing color. After awhile all of it will come together, she promised. Then Gloria took students into the landscape. Her mantra was: “Warm it in the light. Cool it in the shade.” I learned about “Tomato Theory” and “Umbrella Theory” and how to apply the “Grapes and Drapes” lesson in the studio to painting the forest and the Koolau Mountains.

One day Gloria announced she was cutting us loose. Peggy Chun in her crazy fearless way organized an exhibit and opening reception for us classmates at The Croissanterie on Merchant Street. And that was the first time I put it all out there.

Then came showing on the Honolulu Zoo Fence, and invitations from galleries to exhibit. Encouraged by customers liking my work enough to buy it, I kept at it. It’s the process of making art that’s important. You do have to keep at it, and every once in a while something wonderful happens. The trick is to remember the feeling to be able to do it again.

One morning I went over to Kaaawa Valley to paint Puu Ohulehule, a mountain so sacred that Hawaiians in ancient times did not say her name out loud. I did everything I was taught: “Paint what you see; paint what you know; paint what you feel.” After the last stroke, I was sure it was the last, I put my brush down and looked at my watch. It was only 8:15 a.m.

And I wasn’t throwing up any more.

Optical illusion painting

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke

I’m fond of painting scenes of Kaaawa. To see more, click on PAINTINGS in the menu bar.

This photo juxtaposes the canvas “Kamehameha Highway and Kaaawa Place” on my easel with the actual landscape.

~ Rebekah

Thanks to my teachers Gloria and Vicky, to Peggy, and to my “Easel.”

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